- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

The TV images of Hurricane Katrina forcing people from their flooded, broken homes reminded Heide Trepanier of the day Hurricane Isabel ravaged her home. It has inspired her to joins hundreds of other area residents on Internet message boards posting offers for free rooms.

“We wanted to give back,” said Mrs. Trepanier, forced from her Richmond home when high winds from the 2003 hurricane hurled a tree through it. “We are letting them come here. We can provide space for three to four people in our home for however long it takes for them to get settled. We can provide temporary work and get them set up.”

Her posting on www.craigslist.org states: “We have room for 2-4 people who need a place to live until they can figure out what to do. We live in Richmond,Va., have 1 friendly dog and would like to help. Not sure how we can help get you here but would be willing to try.”

D.C. officials announced yesterday the city also will take refugees. Ten buses are on their way to New Orleans to bring at least 400 displaced persons to the District where they will be temporarily housed in the D.C. Armory next to East Capitol Street near RFK Stadium.

The officials did not know exactly where the buses would stop but said the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was a possible destination.

“We will take the buses as close to New Orleans as we can,” said D.C. Council member David Catania, an at-large independent who started organizing the relief effort Thursday.

He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help the buses arrive safely and is providing a staging area but that the Red Cross will not be involved in selecting a pickup site. Mr. Catania said the relief team will try to “keep families whole.”

The buses were filled with food, water and other supplies for evacuees who must stay behind. Mr. Catania hopes the buses will return to the Gulf Coast to get more survivors.

About 25 District employees — including Metropolitan Police Department officers and mental health workers — will take part in the 15-hour journey each way. If conditions are good, the buses are expected to return to the District by Monday.

The Red Cross will spend the weekend preparing the armory, including the installation of air conditioners to cool the building, which is usually about 15 degrees cooler than the outdoor temperature.

Once the evacuees have been identified and settled inside the armory, officials plan to start relocating them, preferably to people’s homes throughout the area, Mr. Catania said.

“We’ve already had a number of individuals offer to open their homes, or people who have open rental space,” he said. “This is not going to be a one-size-fits-all thing. This is going to be a good-faith effort to match individuals with accommodations.”

Elsewhere in the District yesterday, about 300 students and faculty members at Howard University held a vigil for the victims. Muslim, Bahai and Evangelical Christian representatives prayed for the families, the homes and the lives of those displaced by Katrina as onlookers cried and mourned the loss of life and property.

A half-dozen units of the D.C. National Guard left last night for New Orleans to help restore order.

In Virginia, Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Manassas Republican, said yesterday he wants to allow students displaced by Hurricane Katrina to attend state schools. The law currently requires students from other areas to pay out-of-state tuition. Mr. Marshall asked Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, and House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, to call a special session of the General Assembly to suspend the law for one year.

The Warner administration has established a task force to coordinate assistance.

Colleges and universities throughout the area have agreed to help by admitting displaced students. Howard University has processed 51 applications from students in the disaster areas, many of them from such historically black colleges as Dillard University and Xavier University of Louisiana.

Sweet Briar and Randolph-Macon are offering free or reduced tuition to women whose colleges were closed because of Katrina. George Mason University is accepting late applications, and the University of Richmond is offering free tuition for about 25 undergraduate students.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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